Posted by: smstrouse | January 26, 2012

Representing Christianity: Yikes!

The first time I was asked to be the Christian representative at an interfaith gathering, I was at a loss. What to say? How not to offend? I was teamed up with a rabbi and an imam to give the invocation. The rabbi blew the shofar and offered a beautiful prayer in Hebrew. The imam sang in Arabic. I read from Psalm 133: “How very good and pleasant it when kindred live together in unity!”

It all went just fine, but still I felt that I had copped out. Sure, the Hebrew scriptures belong to me as a Christian. But if I’m asked to represent Christianity, shouldn’t I bring in at some point – dare I say it – Jesus?

There has been good reason for Christians to be self-conscious in interfaith settings. For too long, we’ve imposed our ways on the religious scene. Even today, the planning of  an interfaith service often takes on a Christian format, with readings from other traditions added in. We still need to be sensitive to our history, and even our unconscious assumptions.

So it was with a bit of trepidation that I agreed to be part of World Religion Day this coming Sunday. Observance of World Religion Day began forty years ago in the Baha’i tradition as part of their fundamental belief in unity and religious cooperation. The theme of Sunday’s event is: ‘Religion Should Be the Cause of Unity’ and there will be representatives from the world’s major religions speaking on the spiritual principles in our respective traditions that are ‘a motivating force leading to world peace predicated on unity in diversity.’  As I said, “Yikes!”

In some ways it’s easy: go back to Jesus. From the moment the Zoroastrian magi arrived at the home of the little Jewish family with a newborn baby, interfaith dialogue had begun. Jesus’ interaction with Samaritans and Canaanites were boundary-crossing revelations. (Actually, as is true today, Jesus had more difficulty with intrafaith relations, that is within his own tradition).

Things got harder as the centuries passed and Christianity got codified, creed-ified, and doctrine-ified. Conversion became the goal of missionary activity and other interfaith encounters. In this new day of mutual respect, we’ve had to learn new language, new behaviors, new ways of being together. And we have been doing that. We’re feeling more confident about talking and sharing about Jesus, about our beliefs, our traditions.

Still, representing Christianity is a huge responsibility. We Christians are not united in our beliefs. How can I speak for such a wide range of thoughts, interpretations, and practices: from Pentecostalism to Russian Orthodox, Southern Baptist to Episcopalian, from ELCA to Missouri Synod Lutherans, for heaven’s sake!?

The bottom line is that I can speak only for myself, as one who is a follower of Jesus. And that is what I will do. Because I do believe that religion should – and could – be the cause of unity. May it be so.

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Responses

  1. Susan,
    I loved what you wrote. Wish some of my friends could read it so I will
    forward the link so they can.
    Oh, thanks for your positive comment for my debut into the world of Youtube. hoho
    FYI, there are two more videos for you to look at and PLEASE feel free to pass it on to friends especially if they do it on Facebook.

    Like


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